Victor Samitier Design /Alba Aragón Art
Published by GDM
2-5 Players 8 years plus Around 30 minutes
GDM Games are associated with HISPA which is a conglomerate/distributor of Spain board games companies that are becoming prominent in the Western board gaming World. GDM Games have at least 30 titles in their extensive range of various themed games. I don't know how many companies are in HISPA but judging by their Facebook Page and by the stand they had at UKGE this year it is quite a large group.
SUGI has the players racing through the forest as Ancient Samurai Spirits from its entrance to the Temple at the far end. Each game is different because the tiles that create the forest are always set out in a 4x3 grid face down so they line up with the long start tile and the similarly sized Temple tile and only turn over when one of the Spirits enters them. Having played many times (we like SUGI a lot) I think the designers missed a trick by only supplying 12 tiles for the forest grid whereas if they had provided something like 16 tiles (so that there were 4 left over unused each game) the possibilities of a totally different forest for each game would be substantially increased (sorry but my brain cell isn't up to doing the maths at the moment); in fact it may have been even better if they had included some blank tiles for players to create their own paths.
The mechanic shouldn't be new to you, unless you were born in the last twelve months, as the flipping-over from back to front of terrain tiles to form a path through a forest has been done numerous times. Okay, so what makes SUGI such a good game if it's been done before numerous times ? (I would hear you say if I was in the same room as you when you read this) and so I will try to tell you, in my own words.
Once the Samurai Spirits (aka Meeples) are placed, 5 on the start tile and the White one (aka the Ghost) on the Temple, the players are dealt 4 cards each from the Movement card deck, the remainder making the usual draw pile. In Turn order each player must play a card from their hand onto either the TIMELINE (explained in a moment) or in front of them using their Action according to the Icon in the opposite corners of the card. There are four possible icons and each Movement card has one of them. One allows you to Rotate 90 degrees or 180 degrees a card on the TIMELINE (nearly there) or Rotate a Forest Tile, another lets you Place a Card anywhere on the TIMELINE (I better hurry up and explain this), the third allows you to Move the Ghost and the final card lets you remove any card from the TIMELINE.
The TIMELINE (hooray I got to it!): When a player plays a card from their hand to the TIMELINE they play it along one edge of the Forest Grid. They may place it how they want the arrows on it to be presented but to begin with they must place it face down. I cannot state how many times we have sat at the table looking at the card we want to play turning it over and over back to front side to side trying to work out the correct way to play it so that when it is turned over (from right to left like turning a page of a book) the arrows will be facing the right way to move the Ancient Spirits in the direction we want them to move. Once there are five cards on the TIMELINE the card playing phase of the game stops and the Meeple Movement begins. The TIMELINE is probably the most distinctive part of SUGI as well as being the kernel around which the mechanics revolve; it's shrewd, effective and canny.
The Start tile has all five Meeples on the entrance so that they cannot move backwards off the board but they can move Left, Right or Straight-Forward. Once they have taken their first step the next time their arrow appears on the TIMELINE they could move backwards but are more likely to move onwards to a Forest tile; the tile is flipped over and the Meeple(s) that match the colour(s) of the arrows are moved onto it if they (the arrows) are pointing in the right direction and the new Forest tile actually has an open path onto which the Meeple(s) can move.
Having the choice of where you can play a card each round gives players the option of trying to move the Meeple(s) by playing to the TIMELINE or by using its effect trying to gain an advantage or disadvantage an opponent. The reason the players want to move the Meeples on towards the Temple is that each player has a secret card showing 3 different coloured Meeples on their Family Tree with the given values 7, 5 and 3 and once three Meeples reach the Temple the game ends and the players score according to the colours and numbers on their secret Goal card.
The Forest tiles show the possible directions the paths can take. There are Crossroads, Curves and T-Junctions, the latter having an illustrated obstacle of some kind that blocks any path that may, because of the way the tiles are flipped over, be butted up against it; these blocking illustrations give the artist an extra chance to show their skill.
The GHOST is a neutral Forest Spirit that can be moved to a Forest tile to block movement onto or through that tile. The Ghost icon on the Movement tiles allows for the Ghost meeple to be moved in a straight line as far as the player wishes to move it, taking no notice of paths, bushes or blocking obstacles. If it moves onto a tile with a Meeple or Meeples on it then they have to move away by legal movement to an adjacent tile, if they can't move then the Ghost returns to the Temple. It doesn't mention it in the rules but we have added or assumed a rule whereas we play that the Ghost cannot be in the Temple when the Meeples reach it but if it returns after a Meeple has reached the Temple then the Meeple is safe and doesn't need to move away.
Colourful, Quality, Clever, Fun, Challenging; are all adjectives that relate to SUGI. Priced between $20.00 - $40.00 or £22.00 - £28.00 (plus postage) SUGI is a game that has replayability for a number of reasons, it's fun, it's a short game that can easily be completed in under 30 minutes, kids of most game-playing age can understand it, families can play together and core board gamers can find hidden strategies in it. If HISPA continue to publish games of this quality, especially with multi-lingual rules booklets, they will soon be well known in board gaming circles.